Wed June 12, 2013
Turkish Police Remain In Control Of Taksim Square
Originally published on Thu June 13, 2013 4:53 am
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It was another night of violent clashes in Turkey between anti-government protestors and police. The protest in Istanbul's Taksim Square has been going for nearly two weeks and early on spread to other parts of the country. Turkey's prime minister says he's had enough of it. Today he's expected to meet with some activists for talks, even as protestors are still in the place it all began, Gezi Park, in the midst of the Square.
NPR's Peter Kenyon was there.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: After more than a week of letting the protests at Taksim grow into a virtual who's who of Turkish opposition and fringe groups, riot police were ordered back in to clear out the square, with tear gas, water cannons and bulldozers.
The demonstrators are from many walks of life but they tend to be educated, many of them professionals. Lala Barlas, a young psychologist, who says the Gezi Park sit-in is one of the first political acts of her life, does want to save the park from being turned into a replica Ottoman-era military barracks. But she's also fascinated by the diverse daily scene at the park.
LALA BARLAS: Some people are very big secularists. Some people are just against the destruction of the park. The leftist groups are here. The LGBT groups are here. It's people of very many different groups. And people like us who don't belong to anything. I don't subscribe to any particular political party.
KENYON: Later on, though, the attacks by police grew more intense, with some Taksim protesters throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks. Soon Barlas and her friends, standing on the edge of Gezi Park, had to flee.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST AND EXPLOSION)
BARLAS: We were - suddenly there was like a flesh(ph) wall of police and we were very close to the police without even realizing. And then when the police started finally throwing the bombs, we started running away. But today they also threw some of the gas bombs inside the park where we usually escape to. We ran and escaped.
KENYON: As the night went on, the police wore down the protesters, eventually scattering most of them from the square. Additional walls of police prevented demonstrators from getting back to Taksim.
Turkish officials have sought to distinguish the environmentalists inside Gezi Park from what they call the marginal characters or terrorists around the park in Taksim Square. Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu says the police action is aimed at the square, not the park.
GOVERNOR HUSEYIN AVNI MUTLU: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: Until we can restore the normal traffic pattern, Taksim Square will be under full control of our security forces, he said, adding that when they're finished, security would pull back and the square will be re-opened to the public.
But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sounded a more final note when he said of the unrest in general: This period is over. He called on all the demonstrators, including the environmentalists in Gezi Park, to leave.
PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through translator) I urge the young people, who I believe are there with sincere feelings, to put an end to this protest. This is over. We won't put up with this any longer.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)
KENYON: In response to complaints that his approach to the demonstrations is too heavy-handed, the prime minister said this Tayyip Erdogan doesn't change. The prime minister's planned meeting with protesters has turned into a meeting with artists and civil society figures, who the demonstrators say don't speak for them.
Analysts say a softer line could calm things if the government, say, acknowledges the court case now pending against the Gezi Park development and promises to abide by its ruling. On the other hand, the ruling party has called for large pro-government rallies this weekend, and Erdogan may want to appeal to his conservative base by standing before those crowds as the strong leader who is restoring order.
As protesters prepare for another day of clashes, they doubt those inside Gezi Park will be left alone for long.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.